What’s the Matter With America’s Progressive Intellectual Backbone?

by matttbastard

Joining in on the dead horse flogging previously initiated by my esteemed co-bloggers Kyle, tas and Dustin, Chet Scoville examines how the reaction in some quarters to, in the words of Joe Gandelman, Senator Obama’s “politically flat-footed” comments re: small town voters exposes the failure of the American liberal intelligentsia to adequately lay down intellectual foundations that progressive politicians can later safely build upon without fear of blowback like what Obama is currently facing:

If the American left were at all functional, and if the American media worked the way a free media is supposed to, [Thomas] Frank’s analysis [of why some people vote against their interests, outlined in his book What’s The Matter With Kansas] would be as well known in the public arena as Grover Norquist’s anti-government paranoia on the other side. And it would have been picked up in liberal journals, discussed, debated, fleshed out, corrected. The Democratic Party would have had analysts examine it, do some polling, some focus-grouping, some framing and marketing. And the analysis, newly corrected, would have found its way in palatable form into the campaigns, in a way that placed the blame squarely where it belongs: on the Republican politicians and their corporate bosses who have crafted the paranoia for their own purposes. This, as Bill Bradley noted three years ago, is essentially what the GOP has been doing for thirty years, to great electoral success.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, the candidate has picked up the analysis without any of that other, necessary work being done. Furthermore, he made the capital mistake of deploying this argument during a primary campaign and not the general, thus inadvertently* implying that his fellow Democrats (in this case, Clinton supporters) were paranoid and unthinking.

Scoville points to this post by Bob Somerby, which, though contextually focused on Obama’s race speech, is also (IMO) right on the money in this instance:

It’s dangerous when we put our White House candidate out in front on such issues, making him lead a risky parade (Just as it would have been dangerous to have Candidate Gore deliver those “courageous” speeches about global warming.) But let’s state the obvious: Our “liberal intellectual leaders” don’t lead in any way.


For better or worse, “courageous” doesn’t typically win elections. “Courageous” is good for liberal thinkers, of whom we have very few.

Fair or unfair, the lack of impact progressive thinkers have had on American political discourse over the past several decades has left Democratic candidates all-too-vulnerable to “gaffes” such as this. Once again, I point to Sara Robinson’s three part series on how the USian liberal left can work to overcome the idea deficit. Until that happens, I’ll grit my teeth in dubious anticipation of future teapot tempests, all-but-guaranteed to be stirred up by a lazy, vacuous press corps wholly contaminated by 30 years of movement conservative propaganda.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

7 thoughts on “What’s the Matter With America’s Progressive Intellectual Backbone?

  1. Fair or unfair, the lack of impact progressive thinkers have had on American political discourse over the past several decades has left Democratic candidates all-too-vulnerable to “gaffes” such as this.

    Let’s define “American political discourse” as talk radio and cable news. You can see what the problem is. Progressive thinkers (or any “courageous” thinkers, for that matter) are more likely to appear on on “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report,” and Bill Maher (and maybe Charlie Rose) than elsewhere.

    Says something, doesn’t it.


  2. I’ve been reading some ecofeminists as of late. And I came across a lovely tidbit from the 90’s, saying something to the effect that armchair intellectuals need to get out of their chairs and into their communities.


  3. here’s a few off the cuff things – long and hopefully worth on at least a few points I am trying to make.

    A bottom, as opposed to TOP ten list with a special bonus at the end.

    Since I straddle both sides of the border and write for the “Progressive” media there at OpEd News (and man I could write a book about THAT, what I see, alone – up to 700,000 hits a month now) and am better known for thread commentary than article writing, I see things VERY differently.

    [ Just so’s ya know – I’ve been reading the NYTs nearly everday for 40 years .. For years my friends were mostly investigative journalists – an idea now past since BuZh came to power and the media consolidation was NAILED DOWN (with a little help from Brother Conrad Black .. )

    1. When BuZhistas came aridin’ into town (with Texas craZiness and his Xian appeal as per George’s instructions he was determined to never be out Texaned or Xianed again after losing one election), the actual progressive media in the US packed up for the West Coast – and ther real work is done in the Indy media mostly and that has hurt the “Liberal intelligencia” enormously as they aren’t pulling weight in DC where the POWER is.

    2. There is a HUGE amount of systemic sexism that goes undetected – and so very radical kinds of analysis go begging. Ditto on racism; name me one native commentator of note writing in a big internet site or outlet today (save one on Daily Kos .. who is in fact VERY good)

    Alot of US women so-called radicals are pretty weird: hence, you have Alice Walker come out for Obama on one usually good url, commondreams. and every body swoons. She doesn’t even consider the real issues in the campaign – merely talks about her upbringing. One would have thought Ralph Nadar or Cynthia MacKinney would be more her style.. I would have responded (outside the thread) to her obvious EMOTIONAL appeal lacked subtance but NO ONE Is going to publish it!!

    3. Clinton was deliberately sent in to DESTROY the DemocRATic party . but people are only know catching on. (kinda like why they sent Ignatieff up here – Canada’s Joe Lieberman – who only paid lip service to his “I’m sorry” magazine article .. but is a HUGE WARMONGER.) Any one who thinks differently should give Bilderbergers+Hilary Clinton a google. You should also realize, too, that BuZh endorsed her on TV, MSM TV!! He said HiLAIRy “could handle the kleig lights.” The BuZh/Clinton Dynasty and corruption was to continue. Um HMMMMM. The powers that be love the HiLIARy v. the obvious “handled” Obama matchup. It is their favorite wetdream come true.

    4. To understand Obama, you should read Webster Tarpley’s articles on rense.com. I know, I know, alot of disinfo gets put on Rense, but Webster is no disinfo agent. Obama is Zbig’s hand-picked boy and was totally groomed. Yes, if he is elected there will be CHANGE, but not what the American public thinks it will be. The “liberal intelligensia” is largely suburban – them and the blacks are Obama’s constituency, to date them and them is all. This accounts for his recent “repositioning” to take in a larger number of voters .. How the Carter and Gore coming endorsement is going to swing the working class to Obama’s side is beyond me. the PTB are scared to death of a big 1968 type of confrontation at the convention. That is ALL. AS you are all probably aware, the election is already fixed and HiLIARy was to win it – so we’ll see what happens.

    5. There is no center and no left in American politics really . it’s all right wing – some just has more sugar on it. You won’t find many good media critics sauddadaborder, not any medium.

    One reason is you get better paid to be a BuZh basher than you do doing any REAL analysis. Everyone is obsessed with “dots” and details and they don’t look at the PATTERNS that emerge.
    Doesn’t PAY to do so. Why do you think the housing bubble (and others) got missed out? They are still not calling what is happening by it’s true name – The Second Great Depression. Patterns are lacking .

    6. The thing that is a bugger about Americans is their AmericocentristISM which trumps every human concern. They are INDOCTRINATED with self and country unless circumstances force them to look at things another way, in my experience. The Cold War, McCarthyISM pluas that thing Englehardt refers to as “The Victory Culture” really did them in.

    When the GWOT nihilists appeared – with their prethought out torture agenda — while there were no warnings of the fascist state, the US people feel for it like a TON OF BRICKS. They have been bred to believe in FEAR. This also affects the “intelligensia”. Trust me. (and this also explains why Gore does such a treat! FEAR. FEAR. FEAR Yup.) I don’t even want to touch the AIPAC issue here, but don’t you see the FEAR card in all that?

    7. I have found the only really good commentator on the US media today is Robert Parry at Consortiumnews.com. He does, however, hang around with alot of ex-CIA types so one always has to bear that in mind. Many oft those types don’t see how afraid everyone – including themselves – really are. Hard to hang onto a an overflung EMPIRE with an IMPERIAL PRESIDENT riding shotgun all the time.

    Also, Tom Engelhardt IS decent to read .. tomgrams are always a MUST READ. His Nation Books stable of writers are mostly accurate. He sees through The Matrix better than most.

    8. People in the US really are not aware of just how many gatekeepers and plants there on the Iway. It never ceases to astonish me how few ever get called out on their CRAP. They know that there are plants – we even tell them the budget spent on cointelpro and so on, but they still will buy cod’swallop if it makes their day.

    9. No wonder Obama is Mr. Miracle. The word “electability” makes me choke personally, but most seem to LOVE the concept. They are AFRAID of too much CHANGE; just changing the skin color of the PreZ is CHANGE enough for them. The working class has been HAD; but they’ll get to see Mr. Miracle serving five-star dinners in the White HOUSE and that will make them content (for awhile at least) as they will have gotten superficial CHANGE.

    10. Just as those of us REAL progressives were cut short during the Vietnam era, it’s happening today as well .. just chopped and disregarded, a truly horrible waste of America’s educated and concerned. Us boomers who were the University’s finest – we figured alot of stuff out; we studied history. But our influence is real limited either in the media or in our communities. Many became ACADEMICS, real activism was discouraged after that. Some exceptions; not many.

    I was “disappeared” – a victim on the war on drugs and came to Canada. I was one of THREE known activists on my campus, a really huge campus in my hometown, although at one time it was thunderous and respected. I don’t think anyone even misses my voice now. It would be too “rad” for these BuZhista times.

    I think that says ALOT.

    The US needs a truly good socialist magazine that is transdisciplinary, so does Canada, but it is unlikely we will see one anytime soon. India has one; it kept the worst parts of the GWOT at bay there!! People were too hip to fall for the FEAR card and just got on with their work .. we need a good one in the uscanada global conglomorate. Right now, the far right in America and the far left in Canada are having a very strange dialogue indeed!!

    Here in Canada, no one even clocks what I am on about at all!! LOL. eg, The closest analysis to mine is Mohawk Nation News which seems to really “get” it . and why shouldn’t they?? I submitted some good items of theirs to OpEd News as they were the ONLY source of info on Ardoch Lake at the time – before Greenpeace arrived on the scene. Articles were rejected as being “too self promoting”!! My god, like the “liberals” they promote on OpED aren’t self promoting? LOL

    In the US, I find that I am talking to my peers in “code” all the time. We “get” that no one is going to understand where we are coming from ..

    So even though I know what I am talking about and have a lot of legal eagles who helped me out, I am mainly only read by academics, lawyers, economists .. not the group I intended to hit AT ALL. And they are too afraid to comment on my WILD analysis. They’ll agree with it, but they aren’t going to say one word in public that indicates it. You’ll NEVER see me invited to talk about anything on the radio or on TV or anywhere: yet I am CONSTANTLY plagarized. In Canada, I was criticized for “posting too many items” and would I cut it back. I replied well, why don’t you spend your energy writing to the crooks and liars; they give me much to post about. I was considered CRANKY and am now ignored up here. Too bad; I know what goes on here and have a few good suggestions, actually.

    My point is this – a few good Canadian progressies who are CONSTANTLY updating about The Beast do get what I am on about and that’s about it. The two countries are ALREADY consolidated, the truth be known, but who’s aware of it??

    extra bonus point: What I find ENCOURAGING beyond belief is the new student activists – some of whom are today’s new SDS. I have a lot of HOPE pinned on those young people, I really do. I expect alot from them and remained convinced that I am going to see alot from them. Wait’ll they start really rockin the boat and writing . Wow! (they are doing great things already, but you can be sure the media ain’t telling you about it. They nailed BuZh in church at easter. Did you hear about it?)

    Moveon has just coopted a generation. History will not smile on Eli Paliser, says me and Matt Janovic. The liberal media silently cheers them and him on . some antiwar figures are nothing but mic hogs and distain anyone with a anti-globalist, anti-neoliberalISM view.

    extra extra bonus point – I though of this at the end, a sort answer to the “chinese maze” of American Orwellian politics you might need to get hip to – T

    he one thing that consistently goes begging is a lack of liberal “intelligensia” understanding of what the Black Magician Dickie Cheney is up to … Cheney does, and Cheny always has, back ALL sides.

    The other thing he is good at is putting into practice the Ultimate Wizard Hex on everyone which is to make the MADMAN OF HISTORY agenda come to life every chance he gets. So we are all to be left on guard as to what he just MIGHT do next. (time will show this strategy to be too clever by half, but not as yet.)

    We are all to be AFRAID, very AFRAID cuz you just never know what the American Behemoth in the form of Dirty Dick will get up to next.

    The liberal (intellgensia) media has consistently missed this. Only the REAL fundies have figured it out, imho. They are alwasy watching The Magician’s other hand, so to speak. The liberal media – are just too incapacitated by a complicated set of circumstances as per the points listed above.

    and all my best,
    Ps, THEY (as I refer to THEM) are all crumbling and giving them shit now is a Great Idea. THEIR idea of socialism for the rich — whereby they shahre the profit$ and we get the losses – is going to lose to an idea that we all get PLANETIZED and understand and help one other.

    Cooperation and real education is the remedy to THEIR bs – that a return to the RULE OF LAW, not two-tierd justice. Here’s to the Declaration of Human Rights!! And to Bastardlogic, too!


  4. ps, I forgot to mention there are other fairly good commentators. but for media intelligensia issues the best must be Nat Henthoff as his is real hip to the BuZhistas game and gets the media ineffectness real well. I like Dan Froomkin, at the WaPo who has started a good new journalism project, as well. Molly Ivins is sorely missed.


  5. Virginia said: “name me one native commentator of note writing in a big internet site or outlet today (save one on Daily Kos .. who is in fact VERY good)”

    You might want to check out Wampum.

    Wampum might not be “big” enough for your liking, but I think it’s an excellent blog. Just my 2 cents.


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